Yiddish is a very expressive language. There is a brilliant Yiddish word to describe my feelings about food that has passed its sell-by date: mishegas. This word, mishegas, roughly translates as ‘bee in the bonnet’. It describes an irrational yet deeply-ingrained way of thinking, usually pertaining to something totally trivial. The bearer (if this is the correct verb) of a mishegas probably knows that her way of thinking is not strictly sane, but is powerless in the face of it. It is perhaps a little bit like OCD, but I am hesitant to apply this kind of heavy, medicalised terminology to what is, essentially, a quirk.
Anyway: gone-off food. I have a thing about it. A mishegas. If I know that an item of food is even approaching its sell-by date I am extremely hesitant to eat it, and barring extreme hunger will not do so. If an item of food has gone past its sell-by date, you can absolutely forget it – I’d rather starve. (I say this, but I have to admit that this hypothesis has not been tested.) No amount of little yellow ‘reduced’ stickers will persuade me to eat an item of gone-off food.
You might ask ‘Why?’ Well that, my friend, is the nature of a mishegas: I am unable to give you an answer that would alleviate your incredulity. You can tell me until you’re blue in the face that sell-by dates are a tool of the capitalist system to keep us consuming; you can tell me until steam comes out of your ears that such dates are totally arbitrary, and that no harm whatsoever will befall one who eats a slightly out-of-date item of food – it will not wash with me. Rationality is powerless in the face of a mishegas.
I am, however, able to give you a couple of autobiographical snapshots. Whilst not justifying my mishegas, they will perhaps provide some kind of explanation as to my possession of it (again, I’m not sure if this is the correct verb). The first is as follows. Picture the scene: I am but a wee lad, perhaps four or five years old, and I like nothing more than a bowl of cereal in the morning. One of my favourite cereals is something called ‘Start’, which I’m not sure they make anymore. I could look it up I suppose, but I can’t be bothered. Anyway. I liked Start. And one morning I sat down to eat my bowl of Start, and my mum poured the milk on. To cut a long story short, it was less like milk and more like cottage cheese. The milk was LUMPY I tell you! My stomach lurched, and from that point onwards nothing but skimmed milk has passed my lips. (Well, other things have passed my lips; I should have said ‘no milk other than skimmed milk has passed my lips’. That’s what a degree in Philosophy does to you. I mean makes you feel you need to clarify yourself in that way, not makes you drink skimmed milk. Although if someone were to tell me that a specific group of students tended to drink skimmed milk, I would guess it was Philosophy students. I don’t know why. THAT WAS QUITE SOME TANGENT!)
The sight of that vile, lumpy milk is doubtless an event in the causal aetiology that ends up with my sell-by date mishegas. Another one is this. Picture the scene: I’m in my kitchen, opening my fridge. Lo! A tin of sweetcorn! I like sweetcorn. The tin has been opened but there is still some sweetcorn left at the bottom. How old can it be? It must be edible, surely? Let me just lift it to my nose and have a sniff…
Oh Buddha. Oh Jesus. Oh Sweet Mother Mary. The thing smelled like one of Lucifer’s farts. A vicious, acrid stench. The smell of hatred. The smell of failure. The smell of everything that has ever gone wrong in the world. The smell of Original Sin and The Fall. The smell of Isaac’s fear as Abraham lifts the knife. The smell of Pharaoh’s heart as he casts the Israelites into the desert. The smell of Judas’s betrayal. This was a smell whose evil was of truly Biblical proportions. Ladies and gentleman, if you heed one bit of advice in your whole lives, let it be this: avoid at all costs the smell of gone-off sweetcorn.
So there it is. Two autobiographical events, casting at least some light on my sell-by date mishegas. Unless I start earning some money from this blog, however, it is unlikely that I will be able to be choosy about my food for much longer.